North Carolina Central University (NCCU), an HBCU located in Durham, N.C., has been hit by a trio of lawsuits alleging widespread racism and intimidation against non-Black faculty and staff, among other accusations.
Marianne Murphy and Frank Smith, two former faculty members, filed separate federal complaints, accusing NCCU School of Business Dean Wanda Lester of discriminating against them, and alleging the UNC Board of Governors knew about the issues and chose not to intervene.
Smith, who is Caucasian, said he was fired in May 2014, after teaching in the business school for seven years, because of his race. Murphy, who is Cuban-American, claimed she was denied promotion and paid tens of thousands less than African-American peers, despite her superior qualifications. Both are seeking back pay and other damages in their lawsuits.
Kimberly Luse, a former chief of staff to NCCU Chancellor Debra Saunders-White, filed a separate suit in Durham County Superior Court. She alleged that the chancellor, who previously served in the U.S. Department of Education as deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs, misused university funds to purchase personal meals, entertainment and home exercise equipment.
Luse further claimed that after she reported the alleged misuse, Saunders-White created a racially and sexually inhospitable work environment from July 2013 until January 2014, when she was fired and replaced with an African-American man.
Luse alleged that among other upsetting statements, the chancellor accused her of having sex with staff and visitors; told her that because she was Caucasian, Luse “could never understand the environment at a historically Black college like NCCU;” and that “the only two things NCCU was really about were ‘chicken and p—-,’” referring to female genitalia. She is seeking compensation for health problems that she claims arose from the allegedly hostile work conditions.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission conducted a fact-finding conference in March, according to NBC North Carolina affiliate WNCN, and gave the greenlight for the former employees to sue.
“We want to give power to people who’ve been treated unfairly regardless of their race,” Noble Law Firm attorney Nick Sanservino said, according to WNCN. “And in my years of practice…I’ve not seen too many cases with some of the facts involved here, in terms of the systemic issues.”
In a statement, NCCU spokeswoman Ayana Hernandez denied the claims and said the university is prepared fight the matter in court.
“The University disagrees with and plans to vigorously and aggressively defend itself against the numerous unfounded allegations contained in the complaints,” she said.
“NCCU has an impeccable record of fostering diversity and inclusion within its faculty, staff and student communities,” the statement added. “Since Dr. Debra Saunders-White assumed her duties as Chancellor in 2013, she has led NCCU with passion, fairness, focus, openness and integrity, and will continue to do so in that manner.”